|Ready for his close-up: [Allegedly] corrupt Miami Commisioner Marc. D. Sarnoff
at the Trolleygate Dog and Pony Show posing for the Miami Herald.
A whistle-blower on Trolleygate could blow down the house of cards carefully erected by [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. At least that’s what people who call Sarnoff the “Teflon” Commissioner are hoping.
I received a call from an anonymous tipster yesterday telling me of an email being circulated privately (but has since become public) that should have put a stop to the government operated vehicle maintenance facility*, aka Trolleygate, before the first bit of dirt had ever been turned on the project. The email, from Dakota Hendon in Miami’s Miami Building and Zoning Department, said, essentially, that the government operated vehicle maintenance facility being proposed for Douglas Avenue did not
conform to the Miami 21 Plan.
Who is Dakota Hendon? For one thing he helped write the book on the Miami 21 Plan [PDF], so he should know what’s allowed and not allowed. According to an online biography Hendon worked in the City of Miami Planning Department from August 2006 to September of 2010, when he moved to the City of Miami Building and Zoning Department. It was in this capacity he wrote to Francisco Garcia, the City of Miami Planning Director, warning that government operated vehicle maintenance facility being proposed was non-conforming. Yet, like all projects that [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff comes into contact with, no one really knows how this non-conforming project got approved, especially after the Zoning department tried to put the kibosh on it.
It just kind of happened. Just like how the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park and the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Traffic Circle just kind of happened, even though no one has ever taken responsibility for green-lighting those projects.
However, we now know who tried to stop Trollygate before it even started. On May 24, 2011, Dakota Hendon wrote to Francisco Garcia — City of Miami Planning Director — which included a helpful definition from the Miami 21 Plan:
We have a bit of a problem. The Coral Gables Trolley Station that I met with you and the applicant on a few weeks ago appears to not be an allowable use as we had originally anticipated. See the definition of Auto-related industrial below. I believe this is specifically an industrial use. At this point, they have already submitted for the Warrant and action needs to be taken to stop the application. Additionally, IDR was adamantly against the project in the specific location. Please call me to discuss at your convenience.
Auto-Related Industrial Establishment: A facility conducting activities associated with the repair or maintenance of motor vehicles, trailers, and similar large mechanical equipment; paint and body work; major overhaul of engine or engine parts; vehicle impound or wrecking yard; outdoor vehicle sales, storage or repair; and government vehicle maintenance facilities. This includes auto related Uses not otherwise allowed within the commercial auto related establishment category.
|The Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park and adjacent Traffic Circle|
Speaking of the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park: This has not been a very good month for [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff and his doggie park. The residents are up in arms after toxic dirt was found polluting not only the dog park, but also that last sliver of land that Sarnoff decided to leave for the children, after carving out a full two-thirds of the park and turning it over to the dogs. Since the residents are also Marc D. Sarnoff’s neighbours, I imagine it’s made for some tense relations along Shipping Avenue.
IRONY ALERT: In what can only be the supreme irony in this entire story, the only reason it was discovered that the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park was polluted in the first place was due to the West Grove residents’ lawsuit against the government operated vehicle maintenance facility, which was thrown out of court last month. While expressing sympathy to the residents’ plight, Judge Ronald G. Dresnick ruled he did not have jurisdiction in the Trolleygate case.
However, part of the pro bono legal team that represented the West Grove neigbourhood was Zach Lipshultz, who is a graduate student at the University of Miami School of Law’s Center for Ethics and Public Service. As part of that case, he started documenting the apparent toxicity in several West Grove locations. Recently the City of Miami ordered them to be tested again and, just for good measure, included the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park, which had never been tested before.
As David Villano of Miami News Times notes, the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park is getting an immediate clean up after toxic dirt was discovered there, while the City of Miami has known about toxic soil at Armbrister Field and 3 other locations for years without taking any action whatsoever. I guess when you’re the commissioner, you just get toxic clean-ups, dog parks, and traffic circles, while the rest of the citizens of Miami can take a flying leap at a rolling donut.
But, I digress. [I’ll be writing more about the Coconut Grove’s tainted soil in an upcoming post. One Sarnoff Scandal™ at a time. Let’s just stick with Trolleygate.]
|It’s all about these fake trolley buses from Coral Gables, the next town over|
Coincidentally my anonymous tipster (who was the first person to ever tell me about Trolleygate and even coined the name) had contact with Dakota Hendon when he was still with the City of Miami’s Building and Zoning Department. I was told that Hendon was a helpful resource within the office, always friendly, and willing to explain and help navigate the red tape to obtain building permits. The next thing my anonymous tipster knows, Dakota Hendon is no longer
working for the City of Miami and the non-conforming government operated
vehicle maintenance facility was rushed the zoning process “faster than shit
through a goose,” to use one inelegant phrase thrown around.
Now that Dakota Hendon’s email is public, my anonymous tipster wonders whether this is why he no longer works for city and whether he was pushed, or did he quit. Here’s what’s known for certain: [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff shepherded this project from beginning to end, working the backrooms with Astor Development to offer a $250,000 ‘bribe’ to improve Armbrister Field, suspected for years of being polluted.
Another long-time Sarnoff critic [who also wishes to remain anonymous. In fact, it’s hard to find someone willing to go on the record about Sarnoff because people are afraid of his vindictiveness. Many have told me stories of how he punishes his perceived enemies, something I witnessed for myself at the Trollygate Dog And Pony Show.] says this is a tried and true Sarnoff tactic: To offer something to one part of the neighbourhood to get them onside, in order to run roughshod over the rest of the neighbours’ objections, and while the various factions are playing off against one another, Sarnoff will do something like push through a government operated vehicle maintenance facility.
No doubt last month Astor Development and [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff had hoped that Judge Dresnick had the last word on Trolleygate. While the residents were decided whether they should appeal, the City of Coral Gables decided to sue Astor Development over its own government operated vehicle maintenance facility.
I don’t know if depositions are taken in cases like this, but here are some questions I’d like to ask if given the chance:
I’d ask Dakota Hendon:
1). Why he’s no longer working for the City of Miami;
2). Why does the written record end at his email;
3). Did he follow up with Francisco Garcia;
4). Who approved this project;
5). What contact did he have with [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff over this project;
6). What contact did he have with Astor Development.
I’d ask Francisco Garcia:
1). Why does the written record end with the email from Hendon;
2). Did he follow up Hendon;
3). Who approved this project;
4). What contact did he have with [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff over this project;
5). What contact did he have with Astor Development.
Then I would ask some pointed questions of Astor Development:
1). How often did you meet with [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff on this project;
2). How many of those meetings were attended by community groups;
3). Who came up with the $250,000 bribe to Arbrister Field;
4). What assurances did you get from [alleged] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff that this building would go ahead as planned;
5). Whose idea was it to put shutters on the building to make it look more Bahamian;
6). What contact did you have with Francisco Garcia and/or Dakota Hendon.
Then, once I had the answers to those questions, I would call [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff to the witness stand and, UNDER OATH, based on the triangulation from all those questions above, see if he will admit to being a corrupt Commissioner. I say this because no one else can think of any other reason that [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff would go to bat for a developer from the next town over, to build a polluting bus garage for the next town over, that clearly contravenes the Miami 21 Plan, as evidenced by the city’s own Zoning and Planning Department official.
Who is getting what out of this project? Miami gets no tax revenue from this building and has been paying layers to defend it in court. It’s already a millstone around taxpayers’ necks. Meanwhile, the West Grove residents get all the pollution from this building, while the City of Coral Gables has denied them even the courtesy of a bus stop. Because: That might allow predominately Black West Grove to visit the lily White Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, the next town over, which is the purpose of these phony trolley buses in the first place. [Read more about Coral Gables in my series No Skin In The Game and see why I call it the city that racism built.]
Rampant speculation [in almost every conversation I have about Trolleygate] leads people to believe that somehow [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff made out like a bandit on this deal, because there is no other logical explanation for him selling out his own constituents the way he did in Trolleygate.
* The reason I continue to use the awkward phrase “government operated vehicle maintenience facility is two-fold: 1) That’s what it is; 2). That exact phrase is one of the specifically prohibited uses along Douglas Road, according to the Miami 21 Plan.
Edited September 21, 2013: In my anger I used an expletive that I’ve excised. Also, a lawyer suggested I take out the word “bribe.” Instead I have surrounded it in ‘these quotes’ denoting the word is used colloquially and not legally.
My Freedom of Information requests from the City of Miami are beginning to add up, not to mention all the other costs of researching systemic racism and corruption in Coconut Grove